Secrets from a Master Gardener
Learn how your local master gardening program can help you!
I am a master gardener.
I never knew those five little words would be so gratifying, but they are. I went through master gardener training two years ago with the University of Wisconsin-Extension. At the time, I didn’t really know much about the program, other than that it leads to one of the most respected honors in gardening.
Today it seems as if I’m trying to get everyone I know to jump on the master gardener bandwagon. I’ve already convinced my mother-in-law, and I think my mom is close. It’s not that I get any sort of kickback for recruiting. I just really believe in the mission of the organization.
So what is a master gardener, exactly? And what does one do? Please excuse my enthusiasm, but I thought you’d never ask!
What is a master gardener?
A master gardener is first and foremost a volunteer. In exchange for horticulture training, we agree to volunteer a certain number of hours for our local university extension. For me, this means spending a minimum of 24 hours a year on extension-approved programs and opportunities, which can include everything from pulling weeds to working the horticulture booth at the State Fair. Personally, I have a soft spot for kids, so I’ve been using my volunteer hours to teach children’s gardening classes in my community.
Master gardeners must also dedicate a few hours to continuing education. I’m required to get in at least 10 hours of horticulture education each year, an excellent way to stay on top of new and developing trends.
Master gardener requirements for volunteer hours and continuing education can vary greatly from one state to the next. But whatever the specifics, there’s no better way to promote gardening in your community.
How do I become a master gardener?
Most training programs are held through university extension offices, so the first step is to contact the one nearest you. Here in Wisconsin, a 36-hour training program takes place over several weeks in winter. Registration often takes place early, and classes can fill up within days, so check early.
Most programs do require some sort of fee to cover the staff time and material needed. Trust me, extension offices aren’t trying to profit from these classes. And you’re likely to get some amazing resources you couldn’t buy anywhere.
What do master gardeners do?
After the initial training, master gardeners are free to spend their volunteer and continuing education hours on almost anything they want, as long as it’s extension-approved.
I know some gardeners who spend hour after hour preparing, tending and promoting public gardens. I live in the Milwaukee area, where dozens of gardens are sponsored by master gardeners. Among the gardens that rely on volunteers are two at the county zoo and one at Milwaukee’s Ronald McDonald House.
Other volunteer opportunities include going on plant digs, harvesting veggies for the local food bank and speaking to groups about gardening. We even have plant health advisers who are trained to work with the public and answer their backyard questions.
As far as continuing education goes, there are lots of choices. Attending programs at the local botanical garden and going to hear speakers at gardening shows are just
Why master gardening?
I know the master gardening training program isn’t for everyone, but I do think it’s an impressive example of what can happen when a bunch of gardeners join forces. It’s also a fabulous resource for the general public.
For years, we’ve been telling people to check with their local extension offices for gardening questions specific to their areas. Extensions are designed to help serve the public. After all, those are your tax dollars at work!
So don’t be afraid to check out the master gardener program in your area. At the very least, look them up to ask a few tough questions. After all, as master gardeners, we’re taught that it’s not about having all the answers. It’s about knowing where to go to find those answers.